Self-driving Ubers arrive in DC, but they won’t pick up rides

Uber is bringing self-driving cars to the streets of D.C. starting Friday, but the vehicles won’t be driving themselves, and they won’t be picking up passengers either.

It’s the initial phase in Uber’s plan to eventually offer self-driving cars to riders in the District.

Eric Meyhofer, CEO of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, made the announcement Thursday at the Washington Auto Show.

“We believe self-driving technology has the potential to drive safer streets, cost-effective rides and increased access,” Meyhofer said. “At Uber, we feel privileged to be taking our first step toward bringing self-driving technology to life in our nation’s capital.”

The test vehicles are Volvo SUVs that might catch your eye because they look a little strange.

Each has a winglike structure on the roof that is loaded with sensors, including a light detection and ranging unit — also known as LIDAR —  that spins around.

The equipment will collect data that will be used to create high-definition maps that will eventually help guide the cars when they are in self-driving mode.

Uber said that during this data-collection phase, each SUV will always have two “mission specialists” inside. A trained driver will be behind the wheel fully operating the car, and a second person will be in the passenger seat.

The company said the SUVs will only be driven within the boundaries of D.C. during daylight hours, and only two will be on the road at any given time.

Uber is testing out SUVs that have self-driving abilities in D.C. starting this Friday. (Courtesy Uber)
The self-driving cars will have a driver and are outfitted with equipment that collects data about D.C. streets. (Courtesy Uber)
You’ll start to see these SUVs from Uber in D.C. starting Friday. (Courtesy Uber)

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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